Excerpts

The Stone Excerpt – Shadowfires – Dean Koontz

I REALLY liked Shadowfires. Koontz had a little Freud thrown in and I found it interesting. I understand that evil is real and it’s a choice, however I enjoyed seeing how Eric’s past made him obsessed with immortality and youth. It wasn’t that he worshipped these 2 things, it was that he feared death and going to hell. His parents’ religious beliefs put him at fault for the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of an uncle. Twisted. I was morbidly fascinated with Erics genetic transformation or devolving. The scene where he eats the Cowboy at the rest stop, then rapes and kills the cowboys GF then drives off wearing a cowboy hat stands out. The rejection he felt when he saw Rachael when he was becoming hideous reminded me of the Outsider from the Watchers too. This was my kind of monster for horror…I don’t connect well with blobs and tentacles and goo…Eric kept part of his humanity until the very end and DK depicted his transformation into this reptilian/human creature so vividly that I stayed transfixed the entire time. I figured the ‘shadow fires” were going to be connected to hell but, instead, they were connected to the metabolism of the change fire of him evolving.

My favourite character was a farmer whose runaway daughter turns up in a hospital all battered and under FBI protection.

SHARP AND THE STONE On arriving at the hospital in Palm Springs, Anson Sharp had done easily what Jerry Peake had been unable to do with mighty striving. In ten minutes, he turned Nurse Alma Dunn’s stonefaced implacability to dust, and he shattered Dr. Werfell’s authoritarian calm, reducing both of them to nervous, uncertain, respectful, cooperative citizens. Theirs was grudging cooperation, but it was cooperation nonetheless, and Peake was deeply impressed. Though Sarah Kiel was still under the influence of the sedatives that she had taken in the middle of the night, Werfell agreed to wake her by whatever means necessary.

coma_1615608c“Sarah,” Werfell said quietly. “Sarah?” When she didn’t respond, the physician repeated her name and gently shook her shoulder.
She snorted, murmured, but did not wake. Werfell lifted one of the girl’s eyelids, studied her pupil, then held her wrist and timed her pulse. “She won’t wake naturally for… oh, perhaps another hour.”
“Then do what’s necessary to wake her now,” Anson Sharp said impatiently. “We’ve already discussed this.”

“This is questionable treatment,” Werfell said. “I won’t ask any nurse to be involved in it.” He went out, and the door sighed slowly shut behind him.
Looking down at the sleeping girl, Sharp said, “Scrumptious.”
Peake blinked in surprise.
“Tasty,” Sharp said, without raising his eyes from the girl. Peake looked down at the unconscious teenager and tried to see something scrumptious and tasty about her, but it wasn’t easy. Her blond hair was tangled and oily because she was perspiring in her drugged sleep, her limp and matted tresses were unappealingly sweat-pasted to forehead, cheeks, and neck. Her right eye was blackened and swollen shut, with several lines of dried and crusted blood radiating from it where the skin had been cracked and torn. Her right cheek was covered by a bruise from the corner of her swollen eye all the way to her jaw, and her upper lip was split and puffy. Sheets covered her almost to the neck, except for her thin right arm, which had to be exposed because one broken finger was in a cast, two fingernails had been cracked off at the cuticle, and the hand looked less like a hand than like a bird’s long-toed, bony claw.
“Fifteen when she first moved in with Leben,” Sharp said softly. “Not much past sixteen now.”

Turning his attention from the sleeping girl to his boss, Jerry Peake studied Sharp as Sharp studied Sarah Kiel, and he was not merely struck by an incredible insight but whacked by it so hard he almost reeled backward.
Anson Sharp, deputy director of the D. S. A, was both a pedophile and a sadist.

Perverse hungers were apparent in the man’s hard green eyes and predatory expression. Clearly, he thought Sarah was scrumptious and tasty not because she looked so great right now but because she was only sixteen and badly battered. His rapturous gaze moved lovingly over her blackened eye and bruises, which obviously had as great an erotic impact upon him as breasts and buttocks might have upon a normal man.

[she wakes slowly and starts talking ]
She continued, “Mrs. Leben’s paying my hospital bills, gave me some money, called my folks. She. .. she was 5-so nice, and she told me not to talk about this, so I won’t break my promise to her.”

“How interesting,” Sharp said, putting his hand under her chin and lifting her head to make her look at him with her one good eye.
“Interesting that even a little whore like you has some principles.

Shocked, she said, “I’m no whore. I never-” “Oh, yes,” Sharp said, gripping her chin now and preventing her from turning her head away. “Maybe you’re too thickheaded to see the truth about yourself, or too drugged up, but that’s what you are, a little whore, a slut in training, a piglet who’s going to grow up to be a fine sweet pig.”
“You can’t talk to me like this.”
“Honey, I talk to whores any way I want.”
“You’re a cop, some kind of cop, you’re a public servant,” she said, “you can’t treat me-” “Shut up, honey,” Sharp said. The light from the only lamp fell across his face at an angle, weirdly exaggerating some features while leaving others entirely in shadow, giving his face a deformed look, a demonic aspect. He grinned, and the effect was even more unnerving. “You shut your dirty little mouth and open it only when you’re ready to tell me what I want to know.”
The girl gave out a thin, pathetic cry of pain, and tears burst from her eyes. Peake saw that Sharp was squeezing her left hand very hard and grinding the fingers together in his big mitt.

“Now, honey,” Sharp said, “it’s stupid for a little whore like you to pretend to have scruples. I don’t believe you have any, and you know you don’t have any, so cut the act. Save us some time and save yourself a lot of trouble.” He started to grind her hand again, and his other hand slipped down to her throat and then to her breasts, which he touched through the thin material of her hospital gown.
[..]
And that was when the door opened wide and The Stone entered the room as if borne on the shaft of light that speared in from the hospital corridor behind him. That was how Jerry Peake thought of the man from the moment he saw him, The Stone.
“What’s going’ on here?” The Stone asked, in a voice that was quiet, gentle, deep but not real deep, yet commanding.

The guy was not quite six feet tall, maybe five eleven, even five ten, which left him several inches shorter than Anson Sharp, and he was about a hundred and seventy pounds, a good fifty pounds lighter than Sharp. Yet when he stepped through the door, he seemed like the biggest man in the room, and he still seemed like the biggest even when Sharp let go of the girl and stood up from the edge of the bed and said, “Who the hell
are you?”

The Stone switched on the overhead fluorescents and stepped farther into the room, letting the door swing shut behind him. Peake pegged the guy
as about forty, though his face looked older because it was full of wisdom. He had close-cut dark hair, sun-weathered skin, and solid features that looked as if they had been jackhammered out of granite.
His intense blue eyes were the same shade as those of the girl in the bed but clearer, direct, piercing.
When he turned those eyes briefly toward Jerry Peake, Peake wanted to crawl under a bed and hide. The Stone was compact and powerful, and though he was really smaller than Sharp, he appeared infinitely stronger, more formidable, as if he actually weighed every ounce as much as Sharp but had compressed his tissues into an unnatural density.

“Please leave the room and wait for me in the hall,” said The Stone quietly.
Astonished, Sharp took a couple of steps toward him, loomed over him, and said, “I asked you who the. hell you are.

The Stone’s hands and wrists were much too large for the rest of him, long, thick fingers, big knuckles, every tendon and vein and sinew stood out sharply, as if they were hands carved in marble by a sculptor with an exaggerated appreciation for detail. Peake sensed that they were not quite the hands that The Stone had been born with, that they had grown larger and stronger in response to day after day of long, hard, manual labor.
The Stone looked as if he thrived on the kind of heavy work that was done in a foundry or quarry or, considering his sun-darkened skin, a farm. But not one of those big, easy, modern farms with a thousand machines and an abundant supply of cheap field hands. No, if he had a farm, he had started it with little money, with bad rocky land, and he had endured lousy weather and sundry catastrophes to bring fruit from the reluctant earth, building a successful enterprise by the expenditure of much sweat, blood, time, hopes, and dreams, because the strength of all those successfully waged struggles was in his face and hands.

“I’m her father, Felsen Kiel,” The Stone told Sharp. In a small voice devoid of fear and filled with wonder, Sarah Kiel said,
“Daddy..
The Stone started past Sharp, toward his daughter, who had sat up in bed and held out a hand toward him.
Sharp stepped in his way, leaned close to him, loomed over him, and said, “You can see her when we’ve finished the interrogation.”
The Stone looked up at Sharp with a placid expression that was the essence of equanimity and imperturbability, and Peake was not only gladdened but thrilled to see that Sharp was not going to intimidate this man. Interrogate? What right have you to interrogate?”

Sharp withdrew his wallet from his jacket, opened it to his D. S. A credentials. “I’m a federal agent, and I am in the middle of an urgent investigation concerning a matter of national security. Your daughter has information that I’ve got to obtain as soon as possible, and she is being less than cooperative.”
“If you’ll step into the hall,” The Stone said quietly, “I’ll speak with her. I’m sure she isn’t obstructin’ you on purpose. She’s a troubled girl, yes, and she’s allowed herself to be misguided, but she’s never been bad at heart or spiteful. I’ll speak to her, find out what you need to know, then convey the information to you.”
“No,” Sharp said. “You 11 go into the hall and wait.”
“Please move out of my way,” The Stone said.
“Listen, mister,” Sharp said, moving right up against The Stone, glaring down at him, “if you want trouble from me, you’ll get it, more than you can deal with. You obstruct a federal agent, and you’re just about giving him a license to come down on you as hard as he wants.”
Having read the name on the D. S. A credentials, The Stone said, “Mr. Sharp, last night I was awakened by a call from a Mrs. Leben, who said my daughter needed me. That’s a message I’ve been waitin’ a long time to hear. It’s the growin’ season, a busy time-” The guy was a farmer, by God, which gave Peake new confidence in his powers of observation.
In spit-polished city shoes, polyester pants, and starched white shirt, The Stone had the uncomfortable look specific to a simple country man who has been forced by circumstances to exchange his work clothes for unfamiliar duds.

“-a very busy season. But I got dressed the moment I hung up the phone, drove the pickup a hundred miles to Kansas City in the heart of the night, got the dawn flight out to Los Angeles, then the connector flight here to Palm Springs, a taxi “Your travel journal doesn’t interest me one damn bit,” Sharp said, still blocking The Stone.
“Mr. Sharp, I am plain bone-weary, which is the fact I’m tryin’ to impress upon you, and I am most eager to see my girl, and from the looks of her she’s been cryin’, which upsets me mightily. Now, though I’m not an angry man by nature, or a trouble-makin’ man, I don’t know quite what I might do if you keep treatin’ me high-handed and try to stop me from seein’ what my girl’s cryin’ about.”

Sharp’s face tightened with anger. He stepped back far enough to give himself room to plant one big hand on The Stone’s chest.
Peake was not sure whether Sharp intended to guide the man out of the room and into the corridor or give him one hell of a shove back against the wall. He never found out which it was because The Stone put his own hand on Sharp’s wrist and bore down and, without seeming to make any
effort whatsoever, he removed Sharp’s hand from his chest. In fact, he must have put as much painful pressure on Sharp’s wrist as Sharp had applied to Sarah’s fingers, for the deputy director went pale, the redness of anger draining right out of him, and a queer look passed through his eyes.

Letting go of Sharp’s hand, The Stone said, “I know you’re a federal agent, and I have the greatest respect for the law. I know you can see this as obstruction, which would give you a good excuse to knock me on my can and clap me in handcuffs. But I’m of the opinion that it wouldn’t do you or your agency the least bit of good if you roughed me up, specially since I’ve told you I’ll encourage my daughter to cooperate. What do you think?”
Peake wanted to applaud. He didn’t.
Sharp stood there, breathing heavily, trembling, and gradually his rage-clouded eyes cleared, and he shook himself the way a bull sometimes will shake itself back to its senses after unsuccessfully charging a matador’s cape. “Okay. I just want to get my information fast. I don’t care how. Maybe you’ll get it faster than I can.”
“Thank you, Mr. Sharp. Give me half an hour-” “Five minutes!” Sharp said.
“Well, sir,” The Stone said quietly, “you’ve got to give me time to say hello to my daughter, time to hug her. I haven’t seen her in almost eighteen months. And I need time to get the whole story from her, to find out what sort of trouble she’s in. That’s got to come first, fore I start throwin’ questions at her.”
“Half an hour’s too damn long,” Sharp said. “We’re in pursuit of a man, a dangerous man, and we-” “If I was to call an attorney to advise my daughter, which is her right as a citizen, it’d take him hours to get here-” “Half an hour,” Sharp told The Stone, “and not one damn minute more. I’ll be in the hall.”

Previously, Peake had discovered that the deputy director was a sadist and a pedophile, which was an important thing to know. Now he had made another discovery about Sharp, The son of a bitch was, at heart, a coward, he might shoot you in the back or sneak up on you and slit your throat, yes, those things seemed within his character, but in a face-to-face confrontation, he would chicken out if the stakes got high enough. And that was an even more important thing to know.

salander_blomkvist-hospital

“Gentlemen, I’m sorry to keep you waitin’. But, as I’m sure you understand, my daughter and I had a lot of catchin’ up to do.”
“And as you must understand, this is an urgent national security matter,” Sharp said, though more quietly than he had spoken earlier.
Unperturbed, The Stone said, “My daughter says you want to know if maybe she has some idea where a fella named Leben is hidin’ out.”
“That’s right,” Sharp said tightly.
“She said something’ about him bein’ a livin’ dead man, which I can’t quite get clear with her, but maybe that was just the drugs talkin’ through her. You think?”
“Just the drugs,” Sharp said.
“Well, she knows of a certain place he might be,” The Stone said. “The fella owns a cabin above Lake Arrowhead, she says. It’s a sort of secret retreat for him.”
He took a folded paper from his shirt pocket. “I’ve written down these directions.” He handed the paper to Peake.
To Peake, not to Anson Sharp.
Peake glanced at The Stone’s precise, clear handwriting, then passed the paper to Sharp.

scared_young_girl_on_the_railway“You know,” The Stone said, “my Sarah was a good girl up until three years ago, a fine daughter in every way. Then she fell under the spell of a sick person who got her onto drugs, put twisted thoughts in her head. She was only thirteen then, impressionable, vulnerable, easy pickin’.”
“Mr. Kiel, we don’t have time-” The Stone pretended not to hear Sharp, even though he was looking directly at him. “My wife and I tried our best to find out who it was that had her spellbound, figured it had to be an older boy at school, but we could never identify him. Then one day, after a year durin’ which hell moved right into our home, Sarah up and disappeared, ran off to California to live the good life.” That’s what she wrote in the note to us, said she wanted to live the good life and that we were unsophisticated country people who didn’t know anythin’ about the world, said we were full of funny ideas. Like honesty, sobriety, and self-respect, I suppose. These days, lots of folks think those are funny ideas.”

“Mr. Kiel-” “Anyway,” The Stone continued, “not long after that, I finally learned who it was corrupted her. A teacher. Can you credit that? A teacher, who’s supposed to be a figure of respect. New young history teacher. I demanded the school board investigate him. Most of the other teachers rallied round him to fight any investigation cause these days a lot of ’em seem to think we exist just to keep our mouths shut and pay their salaries no matter what garbage they want to pump into our children’s heads.
Two-thirds of the teachers-” “Mr. Kiel,” Sharp said more forcefully, “none of this is of any interest to us, and we “Oh, it’ll be of interest
when you hear the whole story,” The Stone said. “I can assure you. Peake knew The Stone was not the kind of man who rambled, knew all of this had some purpose, and he was eager to see where it was going to wind up.

“As I was sayin’,” The Stone continued, “two-thirds of the teachers and half the town were agin me, like! was the troublemaker. But in the end they turned up worse stuff about that history teacher, worse than givin’ and sellin’ drugs to some of his students, and by the time it was over, they were glad to be shed of him. Then, the day after he was canned, he showed up at the farm, wantin’ to go man to man. He was a good-sized fella, but he was on something’ even then, what you call pot-marijuana or maybe even stronger poison, and it wasn’t so hard to handle him. I’m sorry to say I broke both his arms, which is worse than I intended.”
Jesus, Peake thought.

“But even that wasn’t the end of it, cause it turned out he had a uncle was president of the biggest bank in our county, the very same bank has
my farm loans.
Now, any man who allows personal grudges to interfere with his business judgment is an idiot, but this banker fella was an idiot cause he tried to pull a fast one to teach me a lesson, tried to reinterpret one of the clauses in my biggest loan, hopin’ to call it due and put me at risk of my land. The wife and I been fightin’ back for a year, filed a lawsuit and everythin’, and just last week the bank had to back down and settle our suit out of court for enough to pay off half my loans.”
The Stone was finished, and Peake understood the point, but Sharp said impatiently, “So? I still don’t see what it has to do with me.”

“Oh, I think you do,” The Stone said quietly, and the eyes he turned on Sharp were so intense that the deputy director winced.
Sharp looked down at the directions on the piece of paper, read them, cleared his throat, looked up. “This is all we want. I don’t believe we’ll need to talk further with either you or your daughter.”
“I’m certainly relieved to hear that,” The Stone said. “We’ll be going’ back to Kansas tomorrow, and I wouldn’t want to think this will be followin’ us there.”
Then The Stone smiled. At Peake, not at Sharp.
The deputy director turned sharply away and stalked down the hall.
Peake returned The Stone’s smile, then followed his boss.

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